There are very few principles of metal that are embodied consistently across all of its subcultures — one is a no-compromise attitude and another is self-respect. These tenets have garnered nearly universal acclaim from all corners of the metal community for bands like Metallica (well, before the 90’s), Pantera, Death, and only a few others.
But when the Grammy Awards come around every year, nowadays all notions of being “metal” are thrown out the door.
The Grammys and the metal community always have had a contentious relationship, beginning with the infamous Jethro Tull/Metallica incident in 1989 when the Grammys featured their first-ever hard rock/metal award. Since then, most metalheads haven’t taken the awards too seriously. Today’s blogosphere continues to cite out-of-touch nominations and superficial attention toward heavy music as examples of the Grammys’ irrelevance to metal.
Also in 1989, the Grammys featured their first-ever hip-hop/rap categories. However, the hip-hop awards were relegated to the non-televised portion of the ceremony, which didn’t sit too well with rap artists. Feeling disrespected with their apparent “back of the bus” status, most of the hip-hop nominees boycotted the ceremony for the next few years until they were given prime-time recognition by the Recording Academy. In 1991, label head Russell Simmons (president of Def Jam Records, the same label that released Reign in Blood five years earlier) orchestrated a Grammy boycott, and hip-hop heavyweights like Public Enemy rallied in solidarity.
There are very few, if any, of our heroes in metal who would dare do something like that.
For much of the past decade, the Recording Academy similarly has demoted the hard rock and metal (which they’ve lumped back into a single category) to the non-televised portion of the Grammys. Nevertheless, much of metal’s old guard swallow their pride and continue to show up, despite their second-class status at the awards.
Which brings me to the titular subject of this blogpost — Jay-Z.
In 1999, Jay boycotted the Grammys in his first year as a nominee because the Recording Academy yet again decided not to televise its hip-hop categories. In 2002, he boycotted the Grammys again due to the awards featuring only one televised hip-hop category. Arguably the biggest artist in rap at the time (and arguably the biggest artist in music today), Jay-Z’s refusal to attend was aimed at pressuring the Grammys to give hip-hop its proper shine.
Despite being nominated for three awards both years, Jay-Z was looking out for his entire art form. Simply put: he was pissed that the Grammys weren’t nominating quality artists for the hip-hop categories. Even if commercial appeal takes some precedence over talent at the Grammys (word to Sinead O’Connor’s boycott), Jay pointed out that fellow rapper DMX released two #1 albums in 1998 — the first musician ever to have his first two albums debut at #1 in a year — but was snubbed for any Grammy nomination until four years later.
“I didn’t think they gave the rightful respect to hip-hop.
It started when they didn’t nominate DMX [in 1999]. DMX had an incredible album, but didn’t get a nomination. I was like, ‘Nah, that’s crazy.’ ”
So, why can’t metal musicians stick up for each other like that?
Wouldn’t it have been awesome to see big-name hard rock/metal musicians skip the Grammys in 2010 to protest Mastodon’s Crack the Skye nomination snub? Sure, the metal press scoffs plenty at awful Grammy nominations and omissions — but what if the top brass of hard rock/metal came together and demanded that the Grammys properly acknowledge their art form, like hip-hop did over a decade ago?
Of course, metal doesn’t need the Grammys or mainstream attention to survive. But if metal artists now are yearning for the “good ol’ days” when the masses flocked to their shows and bought up their music, they should think about how they allow themselves to be viewed (and not viewed) in the public eye.
Artists not sticking up for their art. Ain’t that a bitch!